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Suspect Emirati finances land Manchester City with two-year Champions League ban

Emirati Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan bought Manchester City in 2008 [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 February, 2020

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The Abu Dhabi-funded English football super-club is facing severe sanctions for allegedly inflating its sponsorship income, allowing it to overspend on players.

UEFA slapped English Premier League champion Manchester City with a ban from the Champions League for two seasons on Friday for “serious breaches” of spending rules in a seismic ruling against one of world football's wealthiest clubs.

The team, owned by Emirati prince Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was also fined 30 million euros ($33 million) following an investigation into its finances that was sparked by leaks showing that City overstated its sponsorship revenue in a bid to comply with Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations.

The punishment prevents City from playing in any European competition, including the Europa League, until the 2022-23 season.

The Champions League trophy has been at the forefront of the club’s targets for several years, and could significantly impact the club's ability to sign players and retain manager Pep Guardiola, whose contract expires next season.

The club is accused of having manipulated sponsorship revenue from Etihad Airways, the state-owned airline from Abu Dhabi. A 2015 investigation by Der Spiegel indicates that the club’s owner Sheikh Mansour, was funding the vast majority of the sponsorship himself.

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FFP regulations, introduced in 2011 with the intention of limiting clubs’ spending on players’ wages, restricts the amount a club can by making it proportionate to its income, in which sponsorship is a component.

Sheikh Mansour bought City in 2008, spending lavishly on top players to transform the club into an English football heavyweight, winning the Premier League four times since 2012.

The FFP regulations are seen as UEFA’s attempt to control super rich owners from buying up smaller clubs and pouring in unfettered amounts of funding for purchasing players.

The verdict was delivered on Friday to City following a hearing of UEFA's club financial control body on 22 January.

“The adjudicatory chamber, having considered all the evidence, has found that Manchester City Football Club committed serious breaches of the UEFA club licensing and financial fair play regulations by overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to UEFA between 2012 and 2016," UEFA said in a statement.

“The adjudicatory chamber has also found that in breach of the regulations the club failed to cooperate in the investigation of this case.”

City said it would appeal against the sanctions, criticising a “flawed” process.

In 2015, Der Spiegel said emails were being sent internally at City showing the manipulation of sponsorship revue from Etihad Airways, the state-owned airline from Abu Dhabi, which is the naming rights sponsor of City’s stadium and training campus as well as appearing on jerseys.

The sponsorship was said to generate 67.5 million pounds (about $85 million) annually for City. But City’s holding company — the state-backed Abu Dhabi United Group — channeled 59.9 million pounds back to Etihad, according to Jorge Chumillas, the club’s chief financial officer, in an internal email to club director Simon Pearce.

The leaks showed how City allegedly tried to artificially raise its revenue, in one case by 30 million euros, according to emails from 2013 reported by Der Spiegel. Abu Dhabi United Group was alleged to be sending cash to a shell vehicle which was created to supposedly buy the right to use players’ images in marketing campaigns.

The UEFA statement on Friday did not reference any specifics of the evidence that led to the punishment.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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